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Glittery, 20121105, HTML, 650 x 400 pixels

Wash, 20121105

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Wash, 20121105

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Eva Lake: “Photomontages”

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Written for the exhibition Eva Lake: “Photomontages” at Some Walls, October 6 – December 23, 2012.

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Eva Lake: Photomontages

Photomontage is collage made with photographic material. In terms of image making, photomontage has a short history; it seems obvious to say, but of course photomontage can only be as old as photography itself, dating from the mid-1820’s, and more specifically, only as old as photographs printed on paper, beginning in the late 1830’s[1]. Some artists generate their own photographic material, but it’s more common to use found photographic materials that come from specific contexts and times, and that carry meaning from those conditions, about which there are pros and cons. The artist’s challenge is to use that meaning effectively, or to intervene in and steer that meaning in another direction, or to defy or defeat the given meaning to make something new.

About her collages[2],which she began making in 1978, Eva Lake says, "I’ve called it a Bedroom Art as often that was the only place I had to work in." Made with old magazine images and colored paper, Lake’s resulting images and series address numerous cultural, social, and gender issues as well as formal, craft, and decorative concerns. In addition to her heroes, John Heartfield, Hannah Hoch and Man Ray, there are a range of practitioners with whom Lake’s collages keep company, such as Romare Bearden, Richard Hamilton, Martha Rosler, Robert Heinecken, Jerry Uelsmann, Barbara Kruger, Bruce Conner, and Jess, among others.

The year 1978 is significant; at that time the Punk ethic of DIY[3] had emerged and was spreading. The idea that anyone could play an instrument and start a band became reality, and that ethos spread to other areas of creative work, including art, photography, fashion, literature and poetry, criticism, and publishing. Anyone remotely familiar with the era will recall the use of collage to make posters and flyers advertising band gigs as well as album covers. Perhaps a most widely known case is the cover of the Sex Pistol’s Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, though there are literally thousands of other examples that take to a greater and more effective extreme[4] the use of words, letters, and photo fragments cut from magazines and photocopies and reused, often "hostage letter" style. But there are more significant aspects of the punk aesthetic and ethos that Lake shares. Her willingness to use bright, sometimes even jarring color is tuned with genuine sensibility and skill. She has a commitment to using pre-existing material, which not only has ecological significance given the materials many artists typically consume, but also is a recycling that keeps old images in circulation both as a form of preservation and, more importantly, as an active ingredient for dialog and new meaning. And Lake’s body of work exemplifies how it is possible for anyone with a stack of magazines, scissors, glue, and a tabletop to make meaningful art.

Lake has created several series of photomontages. In "The Judd Montages," she transplants images of Donald Judd’s sculptures into unexpected settings, tweaking scale and space, and transforming images of art objects often thought refined and rigorous (think tough, severe, and perhaps macho) into something friendlier and appealing, even lush. The large series "Targets" sites the familiar faces of numerous starlets and beauties within the target motif, simultaneously showing how these women are historically the bulls eye of male vision and desire, while at the same time appearing strong and able to withstand, even outclass and transcend, anyone’s intention of making her an object, victim, or outcast.

In examples from the "Anonymous Women" series, images of female models from ads and fashion magazines are precisely cut and opened, pulled apart and segmented into isolated features. Parts and pieces are beautifully integrated into surprising backgrounds: the Colosseum; a brightly-colored, multi-layered cake; a Mondriaan painting; a coastal view of rocks and sea; an ornate canopy bed; a vista of parcels of farmland; and a night scene of missiles launching. These combinations might ordinarily be used to create expected and summary political commentary about gender and history through ironic or humorous juxtapositions. Instead, rather than attempting to directly retrieve and elevate the women from the ranks of anonymity in obvious ways, Lake’s further anonymization tinged with a nod to Dada, a taste of Surrealism, and the nostalgia of almost domestic-seeming materials and tools—magazine pages, scissors, knife, and glue—summons a deeper sympathy for and empathy with anonymous women from the past who were remunerated for lending their bodies and faces to the grinding commercial machinery of publishing and advertising that trades on hopes of the eternal present through beauty, glamour, and luxury.

On the floral rug serving as the background of Anonymous Woman 15, a woman’s main features in three quarter view—shaped eyebrow, sparkling eye, shapely nose, lip-sticked mouth, and snuggly ear— have been carefully cut out and positioned, floating where they belong spatially but without the rest of the face—forehead, cheek, jaw, chin—that would hold these parts in place. The neck remains, an odd abstract shape without a face or a body. Her pearl earring echoes a flower in the rug’s lower right corner. A sunflower at the rug’s center is right about where the point of the cheek bone would be most prominent. Three barrels of immaculately curled, chocolate hair comically rest on the rug’s top left corner. The soft and smooth color and texture of the printing make her "best" features like candy in a box, precisely cut pieces highlighted, isolated, and presented as choice bits, perfect examples detached from real life. Her eyes shifts back towards the middle and up, looking far pleasantly past us, unable to acknowledge her plight of reduction to ideal parts with little identity.

The Man in the Moon changes gender in Anonymous Woman 6 with the placement of a single, long-lashed, right eye, a tight, smiling mouth, and an orange, wrap around hat atop the detailed, pock-marked Moon. In the space vacated by the missing left eye is a cluster of three craters, including Ptolemaeus, an ancient lunar impact crater, seem to instead create multiple eyes, and which connect to an effervescent span of more edge-to-edge craters leading up to the hairline. Ptolemaeus is of course named after Ptolemy, the Greek-Roman mathematician and astronomer who lived in Egypt, and who is known for his Handy Tables, which organized the data used to compute the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets, eclipses of the Sun and Moon, and the rising and setting of the stars. Anonymous Woman 6, lifted from the pages of a vintage fashion magazine, looks directly and confidently at us with her one eye, while the Moon, which has become her head shrouded in a hat topped with a bow, is a mysterious container of information, distant and turning slowly, even introverted, alternately reflecting light back and turning dark.

Anonymous Woman 39 is black and white, though obviously blond, well turned-out, self-contained: a full head of coiffed, wavy hair, a large pendant earring, bare shoulders, and a single eye, lid closed, not acknowledging the viewer, are all that remain. Sections of her face are cut away,with the remaining features set in front of a Gothic church’s vaulted ceiling. The perspective of the ceiling recedes at a steep angle down to the lower right; this sharp direction, and the sweep of the vault’s structure, rapidly propel her face to the foreground, stately and statuesque as if carved and classic. Just around and below the shoulders, the lowest part of the woman’s depicted body, the photo is raggedly torn rather than cut, revealing the white paper beneath the printed surface, as if the soft chiseled edges of a marble bust. She is exalted in her setting, yet strangely indifferent, perhaps even aware she’s not who she is held up to be.

The theme of anonymous women is, no pun intended, well known:

  • In A Room of One’s Own, 1929, Virginia Woolf wrote, "I would venture to guess than Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman[5]."
  • First published in 1979, Mirra Bank and Phyllis Rose’s Anonymous Was a Woman: A Celebration in Words and Images of Traditional American Art and the Women Who Made It is a "…collection of American folk art by "ordinary" women of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries…" such as, "…samplers, quilts, paintings, and needle-pictures along with excerpts from diaries and letters, sampler verse, books, and magazines of the period…[6]"
  • The Anonymous Was A Woman Award provides unrestricted grants of $25,000 that enable, "women artists, over 45 years of age and at a critical juncture in their lives or careers, to continue to grow and pursue their work[7]."
  • A collage titled Anonymous Was A Woman by Miriam Shapiro, 1976, is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum[8].
Lake has said about making collages over the years, "Because it was so personal and often private, it could survive. And because it often was not shown, it became even more personal[9]." And because they became more personal they gathered power over time through practice and persistence. Though more visible, Lake’s Anonymous Women still remain unknown as individuals, yet through her art we examine and think of ways to dismantle the mechanisms that have made them anonymous.


Chris Ashley
Oakland, CA
October 2012

[1] Public Broadcasting System. History of Photography. 2008. October 1, 2012

[2] Lake, Eva. Photomontage: Eva Lake/ 1978 – 2012. October 1, 2012

[3] Wikipedia. DIY ethic. October 1, 2012

[4] David Ensminger. The Center for Punk Arts. October 1, 2012

[5] Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. 1929. October 1, 2012

[6] Bank, Mirra. Anonymous Was a Woman: A Celebration in Words and Images of Traditional American Art and the Women Who Made It. 1995. St. Martin’s Griffin October 1, 2012

[7] Anonymous Was a Woman. October 1, 2012

[8] Shapiro, Miriam. Anonymous Was a Woman. 1976. October 1, 2012

[9] Ibid.


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